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Historical Highlights

The Ordinance of 1784

April 23, 1784
The Ordinance of 1784 Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

The State House in Annapolis, Maryland briefly served as the Capitol from 1783–1784.


On this date in Annapolis, Maryland, the Confederation Congress, in a 22–2 vote, approved the Ordinance of 1784, creating a framework for the establishment of territorial governments in the area north of the Ohio River. Just a few months after ratifying the Treaty of Paris and ending the American Revolution, a committee led by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and assisted by Jeremiah Townley Chase of Maryland and David Howell of Rhode Island, compiled the Ordinance and laid out boundaries for an unspecified number of states. As reported by the committee on March 1st, the Ordinance outlawed slavery in the territory and stated that “free males of full age” could form a temporary government by adopting the constitution of an existing state. Once the territory reached the population level of one of the thirteen original colonies, the interim government could apply for statehood. In the debate leading up to the final vote, some key provisions, including the abolition of slavery and a clause preventing people who held hereditary titles from becoming U.S. citizens, were eventually struck from the legislation.

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